In the Mediterranean basin, rice is cultivated over an area of 1,300,000 hectares. The most important rice-producing countries are Italy and Spain in Europe (72% of the EU production; 345,000 ha), and Egypt and Turkey among the extra-EU countries (almost totality of the production; 789,000 ha). Traditionally, rice is grown under continuous flooding; thus, it requires much more irrigation than non-ponded crops. On the other hand, rice is strategic for food security in some countries (Egypt), and human consumption in the whole Mediterranean is steadily increasing.
The project aims at exploring sustainability of innovative irrigation options, in order to reduce rice water consumption and environmental impacts, and to extend rice cultivation outside of traditional paddy areas to meet the escalating demand.
Outcomes generated by MEDWATERICE are aimed at injecting tailored and updated knowledge to improve the sustainability of rice production in the countries of the Mediterranean area, with particular attention to the adoption of water-saving techniques. The MEDWATERICE consortium believes that the main barriers/obstacles to the achievement of the expected impacts are the economic sustainability of the proposed innovations and their social acceptance. For this reason, the project is: carrying out an overall sustainability assessment of the irrigation solutions (including the economic dimension); being developed in close cooperation with the SHPs in all the project’s phases, to improve the communication among all the actors involved and the transfer of project’s results to the agricultural sector and decision makers; including the preparation and dissemination of technical best practice documents to support the effective implementation of irrigation solutions.
WP1 (project management) and WP6 (SHs involvement and dissemination of results) are transversal.
WP1 ensures the achievement of project objectives, optimizing organization and timing of activities. WP6 is devoted to set up the Stake-Holder Panels (SHPs), the basis of the participatory action research approach adopted by the project.
SHPs integrate all the key actors: farmers, farmers’ associations, water resources managers and policy makers, consultancy companies and private enterprises working in the rice irrigation and production/processing chains. SHPs participate in all the project phases, with particular prominence in the dissemination of project outcomes.
Moreover, WP6 is devoted to the dissemination of MEDWATERICE outcomes, through the project website updated with regular news, best practice documents to support farmers in the implementation of alternative irrigation solutions, and targeted project outreach workshops, reports and publications.
WP2 focusses on water saving technologies at farm scale. A common research strategy is coordinated by the WP Leader and implemented in all CSs under the control of the respective SHPs. Activities include collection of existing data, diagnosis of major problems affecting rice production in each country, and identification and test of alternative water saving techniques tailored to local conditions. A minimum common database ensures harmonization of data collection, comparability of results, and overall sustainability assessment. This database includes: agro-climatic data, soil physico-chemical properties, groundwater levels, irrigation water quality, field water balance components, and crop yield. Specific environmental issues (salinity, pesticides fate, greenhouse gas emissions, and reuse of treated wastewater) will be investigated in targeted CSs.
Outcomes of WP2 have value by themselves, although they are used also to upscale the effect of on-farm water saving technologies to the irrigation district level (WP3), to quantify the impact of these technologies on food security and safety (WP4), and for the sustainability assessment to be carried out under WP5. District upscaling is based on existing information and the application of modelling tools, although it varies among CSs depending by the experience of single research groups, and by professional capacity and data availability of the respective water user’s associations. Simple heuristic models are used where data is limited, while functional hydrological models with physical basis are applied in districts where data have been systematically collected in the past.
Outputs from WP2 and WP3 are used as inputs of WP4 to assess the impact of innovative rice water saving techniques on food security in Egypt, while outputs from WP2 are used in WP4 to assess the effect on food safety of the irrigation options tested in all CSs (arsenic and cadmium accumulation in rice grains are quantified in all CSs, and additional analysis are conducted in the case of use of treated effluent from municipal wastewater for rice irrigation).
The sustainability assessment of rice production in Mediterranean areas (WP5) is based on the selection and application of the most appropriate set of techno-economic and environmental impact indicators at the farm and irrigation district scales. Regarding the social aspects, farmers, farmers’ organizations and consultancy, irrigation water managers, policy makers and experts are consulted to investigate the social acceptability of the proposed irrigation solutions.
For each MEDWATERICE Case Study, a tailored SHP (Stake-Holder Panel) has been set-up to facilitate and strengthen the involvement of the main target groups within the project, improving the chance of success of dissemination/exploitation activities. In particular, subjects listed in the following table are directly involved in the experimental/demo activities and in the dissemination and exploitation of project outcomes through their participation in the SHPs